MLB’s Spring Training period is almost upon us, meaning it won’t be very long before a six-month chunk of my year is totally consumed by baseball. Since I became a dealer I haven’t been able to watch as many baseball games — unless the Rangers are playing on the west coast, at which point I can catch the last four or five innings of a given contest — but with baseball the dead time is about as good as the live action, so it’s whatever. Once the games become official I never really quit until the Rangers are eliminated from the postseason (or postseason contention), and even then I’m probably still going to pay attention to the World Series.
I have a pretty clear image of how I think the 2017 season will play out in the American League, a concession that there are no truly great teams. Behind the two clear frontrunners — Boston and Cleveland — there are a glut of maybe 7 clubs who figure to be about average or slightly above average, of which I can think of Houston, Seattle, Texas, Toronto, Baltimore, Kansas City and Detroit.
According to Odd Shark, Boston and Cleveland are each +400 to win the AL Pennant and represent the American League in the World Series. The next-best odds in the same category belong to Houston (+550), Toronto (+600) and Texas (+650), in that order. I would easily take the Red Sox and Indians at 4-to-1 over the field, and wouldn’t touch the latter three teams at any of those prices.
From a per-division standpoint:
Boston is -110 to win the American League East, where they are followed by the Blue Jays (+300) and Yankees (+450) — a truly ridiculous price for a New York team that I believe will struggle to reach 75 wins. If anything, I would bet on the long-shot Tampa Bay Rays at +1800, who I think have a legitimate shot of finishing in 2nd in the East. Which is really another way of saying that very little thrills me about Toronto, Baltimore or New York. The Red Sox might win 97 or 98 games in 2017 simply because the East just ain’t that good. I like Boston at -110, but I would really prefer EVEN instead of giving the house 10%.
In the AL Central, the Indians are the mammoth favorites at -189, meaning you are basically laying 2-to-1. (You are betting $100 to get only $50 in return.) Like the East, behind the favorite there aren’t many appealing options. With Minnesota (+1800) and Chicago (+1800) both setting up to compete in 2019, either 18-to-1 bet would be futile unless you wanted to throw away $5 in hopes of a miracle. I’d probably roll with Detroit to finish in 2nd, but then again we’re talking about a team that could wind up with only 79 or 80 wins. At +450 to win the Central, Detroit and Kansas City are both lame options. The right price to jump on would be about double that, which frankly won’t happen until June when they are 7 or 8 games behind Cleveland.
The AL West is the real division to keep an eye on. It’s possible that three of the five-best teams in the AL are Houston, Texas and Seattle, and all could conceivably play in the postseason. The best bet to win the division is Houston at +175, but, if you are a firm believer in either of the other two, you couldn’t go wrong with Texas at +225 or Seattle at +300.
Overall, Seattle at +1000 to win the AL Pennant might be the best of all the American League bets. As it stands, my mental math places Houston at around 40% to win the West, with Texas and Seattle hovering close behind at 25- or 30-percent. Basically, all three of the clubs in competition are a couple mere injuries or spikes in performances away from swaying the division. To that end, if Seattle is indeed the team who benefits from the good fortune then why not take the 3:1 odds to win the division — or 10:1 to win the American League?
Remember, without any great options, a ticket to the ALDS basically gives you a 25% chance (give or take depending on pitching matchups, home field advantage, etc.) of reaching the World Series.
Mathematically Vegas likes Boston and Cleveland to come out of the AL, but at 4:1 odds you aren’t getting much bang for your gambling buck. With Houston and Texas at +550 and +650, respectively, to win the American League Pennant, you might as well take Seattle at +1000 since they aren’t markedly worse than either of those two division rivals.
While the East and Central have clear favorites — teams that could win their divisions by double digits without breaking a sweat — the West has all the makings of a dogfight. Since all of Houston, Texas and Seattle figure to be good but not great, the division champion could be the first team to 88 wins. I’m inclined to take the over on that figure for Houston and under for Texas and Seattle, but you could interchange any of the three and it wouldn’t be that much of a shocker.
As for division champions, Boston (-110), Cleveland (-189) and Houston (+175) would be my official money picks, but I wouldn’t recommend any money on Boston or Cleveland since you won’t be getting a plus return on your money.
I liked those three teams even before consulting the Vegas odds, and it’s nice to see affirmation for my baseball intuition. But if we are talking about the best bets, my gambling sensibilities tend to lean towards the longer odds. There is nothing exciting about picking the chalk selections, even if in these cases they happen to be the most reasonable. In a middle-of-the-pack-heavy American League, Boston and Cleveland are the only two that clearly separate themselves on paper.
In the end it’s like what Kenny Mayne used to say on ESPN: that games are not played on paper; they are played inside little television boxes.
Boston (-110) to win the AL East;
Cleveland (-189) to win the AL Central;
Houston (+175) to win the AL West
Tampa Bay (+1800) to win the AL East
Seattle (+1000) to win AL Pennant